As October is Black History Month, Charly from our Communities Team, talks about the conversations and actions we’ve been taking this year to make our choir a more inclusive and diverse space. She also talks about her learning journey and what she has pledged to do to make herself more aware.
Following on from George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, race seems to be the hot topic on our screens, social media, work places, at home and our community spaces. For a lot of us, it was one of the first times that race was really at the forefront of everyone’s conversations and made us question our perspective and attitudes that we had towards others of another skin colour. I was immediately sickened by the death of George Floyd and hearing the stories of other victims making their way into the headlines. I couldn’t quite believe that this level of racism existed in today’s society but then hearing from others who were around me it compounded the fact that these attitudes were still very prevalent in the UK and our everyday lives.
Not only were these instances affecting us personally, they were also making us look inwardly at our social groups and communities and how inclusive and safe these spaces were for people. At our Pink SIngers rehearsals, we started to hear from some of our black, asian and ethnic minority (BAME) choir members and learn about their experiences of living in London as well as being in the choir. I know that when I look at pictures of the choir we are predominantly white and I wanted to understand what that meant to a person of colour, how did that make them feel and how could we improve the environment for them?
During our summer break, the Communities Team held two workshops for members of the choir entitled ‘Imperfect Conversations about Race’. Thanks to choir members Hsien, Shauna and Paul for making this happen and to Adè Adeniji our wonderful host. Adè is a certified coach, group facilitator, consultant and mediator who works with individuals, teams and organisations to give voice to unspoken words and behaviours, with a view to having conscious courageous conversations. He was the perfect person to create a safe space for us to have these conversations about race and challenge our thinking.
The first workshop was around the personal and relational and allowed us to explore our own personal experiences and how that had shaped our perspectives. We looked at the first time we knew that race existed and how often we thought about the colour of our skin. It made me think about my own childhood and I hadn’t realised how white it was. I was really into hip hop, soul and Motown music featuring lots of black artists but did I really know what it was like for those people growing up? We then looked at how we personally responded to slogans such as BLACK LIVES MATTER and how that made us feel and why.
The second workshop then moved from the personal to the collective, and in our situation, our choir community. We broke up into smaller groups and discussed what needed to happen to make the choir more inclusive for more BAME LGBTQIA members and potential members. We then discussed how we could extend anti-racist priniciples to the community and wider audiences. Despite at times feeling very uncomfortable throughout both workshops and feeling like I was going to say something wrong, they enabled me to ask questions, to learn and recognise how I could change and make things better. I always thought of myself as a good ally but was I doing enough, was I standing up for them and transferring the benefits of my privilege to those who lack it?
One participant commented:
Having been a Pink Singer for 18 years now, and having seen the issue of racial diversity, particularly with reference to the black community, come up at least 3 or 4 times over the decades, I am really glad that we are finally taking action. It is easy to absolve oneself of responsibility by saying that people of a minority want to hang out with other people in that minority, but I believe that people want to find spaces where they feel comfortable. For that to happen we need to get our own house in order and to invite people in, rather than ask why they don’t want to play with us.
Since the workshops and our conversations over the summer, some of those ideas we discussed are now coming into light. We have a working group pulling together an Equal Opportunities Policy, we have changed some of our processes to ensure we have representatives from all kinds of backgrounds in our creative and musical teams. I pledged to do some comms for Black History Month on our social media channels and to read more personal stories from people in the black community. We all made pledges to raise our race consciousness and be more aware of the issues.
My final point is what are the steps YOU can take to raise your race consciousness?
Here are some things YOU can do to be a better ally:
- Be open to listening
- Be aware of your implicit biases
- Research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which are participating
- Use your privilege to amplify (digitally and in person) historically suppressed voices
- Learn how to listen and accept criticism with grace, even if its uncomfortable
Not sure where to start? Try visiting the Black History Month page for inspiration.
Read Pink Singers initial response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which also contains links to some charities you may wish to support.
Timeline datestamp: 01 October 2020